Tuesday, September 15, 2020
September 15, 2020: Nazis in America: Ford, Lindbergh, and Coughlin
[On September 20, 1945, the first group of Nazi scientists repatriated to the US under Operation Paperclip arrived at a landing point in Boston Harbor. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of histories and stories of American Nazis, leading up to a special post on that fraught anniversary.]
On three famous figures who reflect the breadth and depth of American support for Nazis.
1) Henry Ford: The automobile inventor and entrepreneur wasn’t just an American Nazi supporter—he was apparently an influence on Adolf Hitler himself. Between 1920 and 1927, Ford and his aide Ernest G. Liebold published The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper that they used principally to expound antisemitic views and conspiracy theories; many of Ford’s writings in that paper were published in Germany as a four-volume collection entitled The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem (1920-1922). Heinrich Himmler wrote in 1924 that Ford was “one of our most valuable, important, and witty fighters,” and Hitler went further: in Mein Kampf (1925) he called Ford “a single great man” who “maintains full independence” from America’s Jewish “masters”; and in a 1931 Detroit News interview, Hitler called Ford an “inspiration.” In 1938, Ford received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, one of Nazi Germany’s highest civilian honors.
2) Charles Lindbergh: As I mentioned in this post on Lindbergh, the aviation pioneer likewise received a Cross of the German Eagle in 1938, this one from German air chief Hermann Goering himself. Over the next two years, Lindbergh’s public opposition to American conflict with Nazi Germany deepened, and despite subsequent attempts to recuperate that opposition as fear over Soviet Russia’s influence, Lindbergh’s views depended entirely on antisemitic conspiracy theories that equaled Ford’s. In a September 1939 nationwide radio address, for example, Lindbergh argued, “We must ask who owns and influences the newspaper, the news picture, and the radio station, ... If our people know the truth, our country is not likely to enter the war.” Seen in this light, Lindbergh’s role as spokesman for the America First Committee makes clear that that organization’s non-interventionist philosophies could not and cannot be separated from the antisemitism and Nazi sympathies of Lindbergh, Ford, and all those who took part in the 1939 Madison Square Garden rally.
3) Father Coughlin: As the tens of thousands of attendees at that rally illustrate, American Nazism was much more than just a perspective held by elite anti-Semites—it was very much a movement. And like so many problematic social movements, it featured a demagogic voice to help spread its alternative realities—in this case, the Catholic priest turned radio host Charles Edward Coughlin. Like any media figure who worked for many years, Coughlin said different things at different times; after the 1939 rally, for example, he sought to distance himself, arguing in his weekly address, “Nothing can be gained by linking ourselves with any organization which is engaged in agitating racial animosities or propagating racial hatreds.” But by that time, Coughlin had been publicly supporting both Nazi Germany and antisemitic conspiracy theories for years; his weekly magazine, Social Justice, ran for much of 1938 excerpts from the deeply antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion (as that link illustrates, a text that contributed directly to the Holocaust). Both Social Justice and Coughlin’s radio show were hugely popular, illustrating that American Nazism and antisemitism were in the 1930s (as they frustratingly seem to be today) widespread views.
Next NaziStudying tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other histories or stories you’d highlight?